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Natural Resources Defense Council v. Hodel

ELR Citation: 16 ELR 20508
Nos. No. R-84-13-ECR, 624 F. Supp. 1045/(D. Nev., 12/30/1985)

The court holds that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), Public Rangeland Improvement Act (PRIA), or Taylor Grazing Act in its preparation of a comprehensive grazing management plan for public lands in Nevada. The court first holds that BLM complied with NEPA's environmental impact statement (EIS) requirements. The court rules that BLM did not violate NEPA by choosing an action before preparing the EIS. Although preparation of an EIS should precede the selection of the proposed action, there is no violation if the agency has followed NEPA's procedural requirements. The court next rules that the EIS need not specify the proposed numbers of livestock and forage utilization levels for each individual grazing allotment. The scope of an EIS is determined by the scope of the proposed action, and the proposed action here, BLM's Management Framework Plan (MFP) for the Reno grazing area, is a broad document whose very nature is tentative and dependent on uncontrollable factors such as funding.

The court rules that the range of alternatives addressed in the EIS is adequate. Although only one of four alternatives provided for a decrease in grazing in the first five years of the plan, California v. Block, in which the Forest Service's roadless area evaluation was remanded for more detail on individual areas, is inapplicable. In the instant case BLM proposed only a modest departure from the status quo and the amount of land involved is about 1 percent of that at issue in Block. BLM reasonably considered a narrow range of alternative forage allocations, given the potential economic impacts on the community of extreme forage reductions. The court rejects plaintiffs' argument that BLM was required to consider an alternative that attempts to improve the overall poor quality of the rangeland, since the alternatives do represent some long-run improvement and under multiple-use principles BLM is not required to return the land to its native ecological condition.

The court rules that BLM was not required to consider a "no grazing" alternative in the EIS. Congress specifically directed in PRIA that livestock grazing was to continue on the public lands. NEPA requires only that reasonable alternatives be considered; the economic and social impacts of a complete ban on grazing make that alternative unreasonable. The "no action" alternative required by the Council on Environmental Quality's regulations would be no MFP, not no grazing. The court rules that the EIS did not have to include the same site-specific analysis that is required in grazing permits. Finally, the court rules that, although cursory and at times confusing, the EIS adequately describes the MFP.

Turning to plaintiffs' challenges to the MFP itself, the court holds that the MFP does not violate FLPMA, PRIA, or the Taylor Grazing Act's mandates that BLM stop overgrazing of the public lands. The record shows that on most allotments in the planning area livestock use was not a primary cause of overgrazing and BLM identified remedies to overgrazing that do not require livestock reduction. BLM reasonably decided that it could not defend a livestock reduction plan with its current data base. The court holds that BLM has not violated the requirement of PRIA that it actively improve the condition of rangeland. The MFP does anticipate some improvement in rangeland conditions. BLM's alleged violation of its own plan has not risen to the level of a statutory violation. The court holds that FLPMA and PRIA do not require that the MFP contain detailed allocations of forage. Neither statute describes the critical contents of a land use plan and the legislative history indicates that BLM is to address long-term trends and resource conflicts, and not the details of grazing capacity, which are considered at the permit stage. Finally, the court holds that BLM was not required to use available inventory and monitoring data to set grazing levels in the MFP.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
David B. Edelson, Johanna H. Wald
Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
122 E. 42nd St., New York NY 10168
(212) 949-0049

Laurens H. Silver
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Inc.
2044 Fillmore St., San Francisco CA 94115
(415) 567-6100

Counsel for Defendants
F. Henry Habicht II, Ass't Attorney General; Wells Burgess
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-3769

William A. Maddox, U.S. Attorney; Shirley Smith, Ass't U.S. Attorney
300 Booth St., Reno NV 89509
(702) 784-5439